|Issue #08-01 October 2008|
Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah . . . The LORD said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there."
Deuteronomy 34:1 & 34:4 (NRSV)
"The way of the world is compete and compare, but the way of Truth is teach and share."
At the Board of Trustees meeting on June 28th I had added an item to the agenda titled, "If the Teaching & Sharing Center of Grand Ledge closes." Mentioning this might seem a strange way to start an article about hope and happiness, but stay with me.
I am no Moses, however, much like he was seen as the one around which everything revolved following the Exodus from Egypt, I have been the key figure in the development of the Teaching & Sharing Centers non-profit corporation. But the story was not really about Moses, nor is this one really about me. Both have been about what God can do, using a fully surrendered faithful life.
The agenda item above followed a recap of our current corporate structure. While such things can seem quite boring, I think it is important that you understand where we are today, and the immediate choices ahead. Here are the basics, and how they relate.
Teaching & Sharing Centers
I was watching PBS last night (9/14/08 when this part was written) and for two hours Wayne Dyer was on, teaching some spiritual/truth basics. In the midst of talking about finding his purpose he made the statement that he was "not here to fix screen doors." Of course, if you really enjoy fixing things, that is a perfectly valid purpose and important way someone can serve. And, it is no less holy that being a pastor, or serving in some more obvious religious capacity. Even though I have the knowledge and some of the skills to repair and build physical things, much like Wayne Dyer, I do not see my purpose here to be "fixing screen doors." I see myself as one, of many thousands, who was born into this world to help raise the consciousness of the whole human race — all people, anywhere and everywhere, however God chooses to use me. The goal is to bring human beings into a closer, conscious relationship with their Creator, and thereby increase the likelihood of a life of peace and fulfillment for each one.
This may sound like a lofty purpose, and even a bit pompous to some, but as Peace Pilgrim so adequately pointed out, the way to such a goal is opening up to inner peace in your own life first. I have never declared that I have arrived there. Just yesterday Donna and I had a big fight which included statements about my lack of an income, and how few lives the Center seems to impact. These are not new issues for me. I have struggled with them for fourteen years, and still often do. Yet, I am growing closer to peace. Even in the midst of anger, or disappointment, I can sense its presence. Maybe the only life I am supposed to touch is yours, yes, you personally. It is all worth it if it is. Because you are worth it.
Those who interact regularly with me know that for two years I have spoken of the paradox of being dissatisfied with virtually every area of my life, but at the same time totally more aware of the incredible blessings I have, both large and small. Because I remain influenced by the many worldly perspectives instilled within me, it could not be otherwise. Yet, I am getting closer to peace. Acknowledging the truths of my life, all of them, instead of trying to live facades based on other’s expectations, plays a big role in this journey of growing closer to God, and His peace. God is still ultimately in charge, regardless of what His gift of freewill allows us to do. He is my place of safety and provision — not money, not things, not the many systems of our society. They are but tools over which He is sovereign as well. I have not, nor will I ever be without that which I truly need while serving our Living God.
So where does that leave the Center? I do not really know. By all worldly measures, the Center cannot survive for long. Very few of you (less than 10%) have found its existence valuable enough to support it financially. Except for basic telephone service, there is not much left to cut. But, with an annual budget that breaks down to around $30 per day, change could easily happen. Less than 500 members paying the basic membership can do it. Or, ten people of moderate means contributing a hundred dollars per month would do it. Someone coming on board who knows the ins and outs of getting grants from the many foundations out there might do it — or, any combination in between. What it would take to keep the Center going is a drop in the bucket compared to most non-profit public charities. But should it? After all, the Center is just a tool as well. A place from which the message of "teach & share" emanates.
Now the real question becomes, does the Center have any value to you? Does its very existence have a value for the community, or beyond even this area? It is entirely possible, that its primary purpose was to provide a tangible expression of my faithful response to God, while I wrestled with the reactions of family, friends, and even strangers to how I am choosing to live out my philosophies and beliefs in full expression. In that case, its time may be almost up, because, I am getting closer to peace. Surprisingly, I do not have a sense either way. Whenever I begin to prepare myself to emotionally release the Center, I am struck by the hidden energies present here, and do not perceive that its mission is done.
However, even if the original Center (Teaching & Sharing Center of Grand Ledge - see the breakdown above) closes, the corporation remains in existence. a touch of william and Cherokee Bill’s Trade Center would still be IAMs (Independent Affiliated Ministries), but not as the Teaching & Sharing Center of Grand Ledge, which would no longer exist. What would be gone are the Lending Library, Prayer Room, Multi-purpose (meeting) Room, and the identifiable community presence. Signs would come down. After 14 years, the top sign which has asked "What would Jesus do?" would be gone.
I think I would miss the prayer room most. While I have come to understand the entire world to be God’s holy garden, and everywhere a place of prayer, it has a tangible feel and connection to the historic Christian community. It is a very special place I still use daily.
On the flip side, I would not miss the ever present "to do" list or the tremendous amount of work it takes to keep all this going, while developing whatever new dynamics become added along the way. Even now, there is only so much time I can spend in the Center before I become overwhelmed by the amount of stuff waiting to be completed (or sometimes started).
As you see, I can go either way. But, you should think long and hard, and pray, before allowing the Center to disappear from the landscape. Our choices today determine what kind of tomorrow we will have to live in — all of them — large and small — including that which we keep — or toss aside as unimportant to us at the moment.
Since it is entirely possible this will be my last william’s perspective, I have a number of other notes I had made, as options for inclusion in the opening article, I would like to share. One of those is about these newsletters.
Except for a brief time when we became a new corporation, and tried to send quarterly newsletters, we have made minimal use of them. As an organization which espouses earthkeeping (environmentalism) as a natural Christian extension, less paper used means less trees cut. Plus it is less taxing on me. It takes many hours work over several weeks to put one of these together by myself. But since you do not receive something from us monthly (like most non-profits) it means, to walk with us, you need to do something to remember us. After all, the expression "out of sight – out of mind" is why you receive so much junk mail. We would rather be sending pertinent information, less often. Can you put us into your daily (weekly - however often) prayer? Will you write us on your calendar — to help or support? If you do not, "out of sight – out of mind" becomes the reality, and we enter the category of – "there once was this place trying to make a difference."
Over the years there has been talk of doing newsletters by email only. I understand the cost savings, but personally, I think disenfranchising anyone who has chosen not to enter the fast pace time consuming electronic communications way of doing things is counterproductive. Besides, based on experience, and feedback, more people read the paper version of this newsletter than the electronic one. About an equal number of you receive it each way. As it stands now, we send to everyone or we send to no one.
An Out Of The Box Look Into The Future
In the Native American concepts of honor and help, the gifts and journey given to an individual by our Creator are highly respected, but are seen as always for the betterment of the community.
Half the people who have sat around our table as trustees are either in, or were in before retiring, jobs they did solely because it provided an income, not because it was an expression of their gifts and talents, or they truly enjoyed it.
I was in Mancino’s several months ago for lunch. I ended up in a conversation with the young woman who took my order, about the Center. A co-worker, listening in, was razzing her some about her "lack of gifts." When I explained that everybody has something they can teach or share — her demeanor lit right up.
Earlier this year, Donna’s and my tax accountant said during a conversation about the Center, its broad purpose, and the IRS 501c3 public charity status, that we (the corporation) are "sitting on a gold mine and do not realize it"
A rather unusual set of circumstances lead to the transfer of one of my life insurance policies to the corporation this summer. Is it God’s way of saying the corporation is meant to continue?
"The way of the world is compete and compare, but the way of Truth is teach and share."
Competition, as a tool, has lead to a great many accomplishments, especially in technology. But, it has not helped us to mature as a [human beings] species, either morally or spiritually. We remain an immature people with powerful toys.
I would guess probably 80-90% of the decisions we make in our society are based on financial considerations. Helping people get their focus off money and onto God is at the very core of everything we do. Encouraging them to discover the gifts our Creator has given them, that they might teach or share. Suggesting they take the gifts and passions God gave to them, and look for a way to make it their life’s work.
In my imaginings, beyond the obvious religious and spiritual dynamics, I can envision the possibilities of an organization with divisions focused particularly on earthkeeping (environmental) issues, the arts, and living history, where Indian and European immigrant stories are taught as one American History. These are just a few areas we already touch on.
What have we not imagined yet?
Indeed, I can see the possibility of a day when the Teaching & Sharing Centers corporation is as commonplace a presence in communities across this country as Habitat for Humanity. Except, instead of building houses, we will be helping people to build lives.
Will it happen? Who knows? It certainly could. I do not expect to see it happen within my lifetime. But we have made a beginning. I suspect I have brought the T&SC as far as I can. I do not have the skills, gifts, or even the motivation to take us into such a future. But, somebody out there does. Maybe you?
Remember The Purpose
I think back to when I was on the Board at Woldumar Nature Center many years ago, and a group of MSU students did a study on the organization. The observation I remember most from their findings was that we were so busy with programs, sustaining, and running the non-profit that hardly anybody found time to get out and enjoy the trails and natural settings there.
It is easy to lose focus. It is very easy for an organization to slip into a self-preservation mode. Ours is a difficult balance to maintain. We want you to look at God, but we need you to remember us, and our needs, in order to be around to help others to look at God. But, when all is said and done — look at God not us.
Love — Hate Relationship With This
I really do not like writing and talking about money. Sometimes it must seem that many Christian organizations have that as their primary purpose. I think Billy Graham, he personally, struck a good balance between staying "on message" and letting people know their support is crucial. I am still the key philosophical guide for the T&SC, until God provides otherwise. And, as the most tangible individual expression of the T&SC, I understand the need for me to bridge the subject at times.
I cannot chase after money. Not even to avert the closing of the Center if we must. This next piece is a bit redundant now, but I wrote it months ago for this newsletter, so here it is.
Frank Talk About Finances & Membership
Right now only 1 in 10 of you thinks the T&SC matters enough to be paid members of the non-profit 501c3 (public charity) corporation.
I have said in previous newsletters, "God can, of course, provide miraculous ways to keep things going if it is His will. But, it is not likely we will survive long-term with such a small support base. Perhaps the miracle waiting to happen, is a change in your heart about financial support."
Things are reaching a critical mass around here, just like in many of your households. As you read this we will be heading into the high cost winter months. At home, with my health insurance over $700 per month now, Donna and I can no longer afford to subsidize the roughly 50% of T&SC expenses we paid over the years. I have spoken in "william’s perspective" about where we are in general. But, we need to decide. Do we want to stay with "compete and compare" which in its extremes leads to terrorism and war, or do we want to embrace the new directions cropping up within our midst? Change is a discouragingly slow process. Yet, as it has been said, "all that is required for evil to triumph, is for good people to do nothing." I believe we are one of a multitude of servants God is using to move us all to better ways. John Lennon wrote as much in his song, Imagine, stating "I’m not the only one." Could we someday end up, instead of a world at war, being a world of cooperation? Do you want to help get us there? It begins within each of us.
I have marveled over the years that all it would take is 100 people contributing $100 per year (less than $10 per month) to cover the basic expenses of the T&SC. But, we have never even come close to that. In a society with as many people and as much cash flowing around as ours, it has often made me wonder what "message" I should be gleaning from this fact.
When we revamped our membership structure a while back, we both simplified it and maintained the basic belief that no one should be excluded from participation because of a lack in finances. The $24 annual membership replaced all the former classifications. The "nobody left behind" option lets you reduce that to as little as $5 if your situation warrants it. The membership is the same either way. We created an automatic renewal option to eliminate paperwork for those committed to regular support. And, we added a lifetime option for those who can afford to do it all at once, and not have to worry about it anymore. For me personally, this is how I hear whether you truly believe what we are doing matters. As Americans we still say what we really believe in with our pocketbooks. So, it is important that you make a conscious choice. Do not just let it slide until the option is gone.
I have been doing this for fourteen years. I receive no pay. I do it because I feel it is what God called me to do. As many of you know, I refer to myself as a mystical Christian. This means I rely heavily on intuition, serendipity, and the things which come into my thought process during times of meditation or quiet contemplation. Still, I also have a pragmatic side. Sometimes God’s will is expressed through the actions or inactions of others. The level of our efforts depends on the level of response we receive from you. Do not wait for tomorrow.
A year ago I wrote up a set of Operating Principles for us based on the history of the T&SC from its very beginning in 1994. The board approved those in July 2007, but this is the first chance we have had to share them with you.
The Primary Operating Values
HOW TO BEST SERVE OUR COMMUNITY AND THE KINGDOM
1. Keep our Creator in the center of everything. Look to God before and throughout for direction. When asking "what would Jesus do," remember it is if He were you, as you are. God knows that.
2. Keep things free as much as is possible. If a fee is necessary, be sure to have a reduced rate and free option for those desiring to participate, but truly without the financial resources to do so.
3. Keep it real. Leave off the masks, the pretend saintliness, and the we’re always right attitudes. Let humility and honesty be foremost in what we do.
4. Be dedicated to truth. Acknowledge all sides, and ways of looking at something, not just the one we are teaching or sharing. We all benefit from the truth, regardless of its source.
5. Remember the whole picture. All things are connected. Whatever we are teaching or sharing is not isolated from the rest. Cooperate. Do things in a fashion that helps others do their work.
6. Allow for uniqueness. Think outside the boxes. A T&SC could be like the original Center, or more expansive, or as basic as a single individual.
7. Respect the individual. Everyone is in the same world trying to deal with the realities and difficulties as best they can. Each person has the right to choose their path. Each has a special place in God’s puzzle. Judge not.
8. Respect creation. It is all of God’s making. None of us is wise enough to know how much something matters in the big picture. Err on the side of conservation and preservation.
9. Maintain the spiritual. Keep things simple. Put money, stuff, worldly power and prestige in a proper perspective as tools to be used for the good of all, not as goals in and of themselves.
10. Be fluid. We are blossoming as that which God created us to be. Open to yourself, others, and the new insights the Holy Spirit is awakening within you. Seek to see the positive, even in the challenges. Do not be afraid to close a door, or to try a new one.
T&SC Board of Trustees, July 14, 2007
From Peace Pilgrim’s Steps Booklet (Pg 28-29)
YOU CAN KNOW GOD: There is a power greater than ourselves which manifests itself within us as well as everywhere else in the universe. This I call God. Do you know what it is to know God — to have God's constant guidance — a constant awareness of God's presence? To know God is to reflect love toward all people and all creations. To know God is to feel peace within — a calmness, a serenity, an unshakeableness which enables you to face any situation. To know God is to be so filled with joy that it bubbles over and goes forth to bless the world. I have only one desire now — to do God's will for me — there is no conflict. When God guides me to walk a pilgrimage I do it gladly. When God guides me to do other things I do them just as gladly. If what I do brings criticism upon me I take it with head unbowed. If what I do brings me praise, I pass it immediately along to God, for I am only the little instrument through which God does the work. When God guides me to do something I am given strength, I am given supply, I am shown the way, I am given the words to speak. Whether the path is easy or hard I walk in the light of God's love and peace and joy, and I turn to God with psalms of thanksgiving and praise. This it is to know God. And knowing God is not reserved for the great ones. It is for little folks like you and me. God is always seeking you — every one of you. You can find God if you will only seek — by obeying divine laws, by loving people, by relinquishing self-will, attachments, negative thoughts and feelings. And when you find God it will be in the stillness. You will find God within.
I Had a Dream
In a dream I just awoke from (written at 6:58 a.m. on 9/28/08), I was riding in a car with my Uncle Jerry (deceased), my dad, and a young girl (younger than a teenager) who (I think) was an orphan (I believe from a war torn area). Jerry was driving since it was his car.
For time and space considerations, I will jump to the end of the dream. My uncle asked about my life and I was explaining how many tasks are involved in keeping the Center running. I told him that though I had been a State Farm agent for 20 years, something people see as a "real job" because there is a paycheck associated with it, I had been working as, and now (as a corporation) at, the Center for fifteen years.
The scene shifted to an outdoor area, like a university courtyard, or a town square, with people sitting everywhere, some leaning against walls, some in the open, but most facing the same direction as if they were watching or expecting something. The four of us were just there among all the others. Jerry asked me, "so what have you accomplished?" I started to tell him about some small changes I had seen in specific people’s lives. After a moment of this I paused, and then I said, "but the goal is to change the whole world. The current way of the world is compete and compare, but the way of truth is teach and share." And I went on to tell him a number of the things I have mentioned in this newsletter. I talked about competition, and though it would likely remain for things like sports, the norm for life, in general, had to evolve to sharing, cooperation, and a greater sense of connection to everyone and everything.
Many of those around us had begun to listen. A young man (university age) sitting next to Jerry was grinning. I remarked that he was smiling either because he was of this world’s ways, and thought I was off my rocker, or perhaps because he understood that what I was saying is the truth, and truth always triumphs in the end — simply because it is the truth.
The interesting thing about this dream is that it has never been a goal of mine to change the world. I started adulthood with the standard American dreams/goals of money, property, and prestige. But, even finding a little of each was enough to show the emptiness within them.
When I entered into the "spiritual" stage of my life (in my mid 40s), the new dream/goal became the heart of God. It seemed to me, and still does, that in God’s heart and hands I will best find where and how to participate (serve). And, it is there also where I will find happiness, fulfillment, and true security. I see myself as the one who needs to change and grow. God is in charge of any by-product resulting from this.
Even though I already stated changing the world has never been a goal of mine, I though I would share the following (taken from a bookmark).
Practical In Tough Times
What I have been teaching (and sometimes preaching) and sharing at the Center these past 14 years is not just pie in the sky stuff. I have never endorsed ignoring the realities of this world, just offered a different way of looking at and dealing with them. I have been expounding moving toward debt-free living right from the start. Nobody who embraced debt-free living as the best path back then, is facing a mortgage foreclosure today. Nobody who started turning to God as the source of their security, instead of money, is frantic about what their employer might, or might not, do. I (now we) have never tried to jam these, and other, philosophies down anyone’s throat. We just quietly make ourselves available to teach, share and guide those who are ready. None of what is taught is original or new. Most of it is straight out of Scripture. But it is real – practical answers – and ways to make your life, as our flyer has always said – peaceful in a time of chaos, secure in a changing and unstable world, and fulfilling within a society selling emptiness. Real answers — right here — right now — still your choice.
May you choose well.
FAIR USE NOTICE
This newsletter may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this newsletter is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research or educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this newsletter for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.